Story: Ethnic and religious intolerance

Page 2. Intolerance towards European immigrants

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Until the 1960s nearly all immigrants were British or Irish. They were generally well-received, although there was some gentle ribbing of English newcomers – called ‘new chums’ in the 19th century, ‘homies’ in the 1920s, and ‘Poms’ in the 1950s and 1960s. British-born unionists received some public abuse as stirrers with foreign accents.

Tolerant Kiwis?

Richard Ingles was born in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and migrated to New Zealand with his wife in 1965. When asked why they came to New Zealand rather than Australia, he answered that ‘Australians call us “Pommy Bastards” but in New Zealand it’s just “Bloody Pom”’.1

There was less tolerance of the Irish. Traditionally regarded by the English as uneducated, lazy, papist and overly fond of drink, the Catholic Irish suffered from discrimination in the recruitment of immigrants. Canterbury and Wellington provinces tried to avoid offering assisted passages to Irish, and the New Zealand government concentrated its efforts on the Protestant north of Ireland. There was some discrimination against Irish immigrants in terms of employment.

Continental Europeans

There were few immigrants from elsewhere in Europe. Most – such as the Germans and Scandinavians – were fully accepted, and were easily able to become naturalised as citizens.

Two world wars brought suspicion towards Germans, who in the First World War became the object of campaigning by the Anti-German League. Several hundred Germans were imprisoned as enemy aliens on Matiu (Somes Island) in Wellington Harbour and Motuihe Island near Auckland. In the Second World War over 100 Germans were detained on Matiu, along with 38 Italians and some Japanese.

Dangerous professor?

German-born, with an English mother, George von Zedlitz was the foundation professor of modern languages at Victoria College (later University) in Wellington. Although loyal to his adopted country, he offered his resignation when the First World War broke out. However, the university refused it. Rumours spread that von Zedlitz was a German agent who was in radio contact with German ships and signalled to internees on Matiu (Somes Island) from his hillside home. The Alien Enemy Teachers Act was passed in 1915 to force von Zedlitz out, and after the war a motion to reinstate him was defeated. A new building which opened at the university in 1979 was named after von Zedlitz.


Dalmatians from the Croatian coast were victims of some intolerance. Most came to New Zealand to work on the kauri-gum fields, and were regarded as illiterate and dirty. In 1898 the Kauri-gum Industry Act introduced kauri-gum reserves for British subjects only, and licences for gum-digging. Laws passed in 1908 and 1910 further restricted Dalmatians’ rights by confining digging licences to British subjects.

How to cite this page:

Paul Spoonley, 'Ethnic and religious intolerance - Intolerance towards European immigrants', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 April 2024)

Story by Paul Spoonley, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 7 Jun 2018